Hoping to go from Brisbane to New York: Wikifashion co-founders Madeline Veenstra and Coen Hyde. Photo: Richard Waugh
An Australian student fashion start-up built on open source software is literally going places.
Wikifashion, started by Madeline Veenstra, 25, and her partner Coen Hyde, 27, while she was still studying economics at the University of Queensland three years ago, is set to take on New York as angel investors begin to share in the young site's vision to become an authority in fashion.
Veenstra started the site because she was interested in the subject – a love she stumbled upon while doing part-time work in retail – and could not find a central repository of fashion brands collections online.
Hoping to go from Brisbane to New York ... Wikifashion co-founders Madeline Veenstra and Coen Hyde. Photo: Richard Waugh
"I'm a bit of a geek and often would go to Wikipedia but found there was a real lack of fashion information on there," says Veenstra whose last job was as an econometrician analysing data for Queensland Treasury.
It was built as a part-time project with the help of Hyde, a computer programmer, using MediaWiki, a free software program developed for Wikimedia and now deployed by several other collaboration sites.
Now The Australian Small Scale Offerings Board (ASSOB) - a investor and business match-making venture based in Queensland has listed the start-up for three rounds of funding. The first round will see Veenstra, Coen and a business development director relocate to the fashion capital of the world, New York.
Veenstra says New York is crucial to the site's next growth phase. Most of its 70,000 users and 6000 contributors currently come from there and the budding company has secured an unpaid deal with the city's Fashion Institute of Technology to digitise its physical archives and make them available online.
It is also pursuing a deal with the city's High School of Fashion Industries to offer internships to secondary students who will facilitate content creation, she says.
Veenstra didn't reveal how much she is hoping to raise but Paul Niederer, ASSOB CEO, says the company anticipates it will need around $3 million to fund its expansion.
"They are in 'early bird VIP' stage. That means friends, family and followers get invited to check out their offer document [online]."
Niederer says ASSOB has around 70 listings a year with initial funds coming predominantly from friends and family and "followers" of the business. The organisation has funded 176 companies with 152 still operational. Investors are made aware of the risks before being able to register on the site.
"Then when people see there's investment in there you see private equity and more sophisticated investors [take notice]. It's a way to legitimise investments. It's like crowdfunding but we don't call it that."
Veenstra would welcome a mentor in addition to money.
"We want our first round to last us for a year, three rounds to sustain the business for the next two to three years. A mentor would be great, we'd definitely like to talk to everyone in the fashion industry with advice."
In addition, Austrade has selected Wikifashion as a potential export candidate.
Niederer says moving Wikifashion to New York, apart from sounding glamorous, is justified.
"We don't often get relocation [in our listings]. Most companies stay within the Australian base, but in this case it's probably very congruent that they need to move to achieve the goals they've set."
Veenstra is hoping to make Wikifashion more user-friendly; more reliant on data and more semantic in its ability to organise and serve content around the meaning of words, so that nascent brands can benefit from having their own pages and manage their own collection launches.
She also plans on adding social tools, to make it more like Facebook, and e-commerce capabilities so the site can generate revenue by earning a percentage from the sale of showcased items. At the moment, the site only makes enough money through advertising and sponsored content to support Veenstra, and pay for its hosting on Amazon EC2 – a cloud computing platform owned by giant e-tailer Amazon. Hybe works full-time at Brisbane social video start-up company Kondoot.
"We have a very strong community behind us with labels, bloggers and fashion students. We have 700 fashion bloggers who [display] 'I love' or 'I contribute' badges on their site. We don't want to be like Facebook but will definitely have more of a community aspect to it," she says.